One of the most exciting things about working here at Consult Hyperion is that you are involved in the design and delivery of services which have a huge impact on people’s lives. My family moaned when I asked the taxi driver that took us from the airport into Nairobi whether he used M-PESA. However they were soon having similar conversations as they realised how important the service is to every Kenyan they met. More recently they have accused me of being responsible for “card clash” on the London Underground and have resorted to buying shielded wallets to ensure that TfL only take money from the Oyster Cards that I fund!
Sat here as I am at the AidEx conference in Brussels, surrounded by the great and good of the Humanitarian Aid community, I feel that Consult Hyperion is on the verge of delivering yet another life changing service.
The refugee issue is a regular topic of discussion across all media. Most stories focus on the plight of the individuals walking across Eastern Europe. However there is a growing awareness of the impact of so many refugees on the local economy. For example Alex Forsyth, reporting for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, highlighted that the holiday season in Lesbos has been extended, as people descend on the island to help the refugees arriving by sea.
The conversations in Brussels have focused on the need to provide aid to the refugees in the form of cash-based payments, rather than physical goods, such as rice or tents. The argument goes that if the refugees have the funds to buy the goods, then the entrepreneurs in the host country will invest in the distribution channels to ensure that the goods that the refugees need are where they want to buy them.
The trouble with cash is that it has a tendency to evaporate, i.e. not all the intended funds reach the recipient, even if it is transported into the region in 40 foot steel shipping containers on the back of a truck. As we discovered in Nigeria the principal alternative, paper vouchers, have some major disadvantages. They are difficult to manage in large numbers; they must be printed by specialist printers; they have to be ordered significantly in advance; they have to be the right value to allow the refugee to spend all the funds in one visit to the merchant, even when the local currency is devaluing; the merchant and the agency running the scheme have to reconcile the vouchers before the funds can be provided to the merchant; and the used vouchers have to be stored in case of dispute.
Recognising this, there is growing support within the Humanitarian Aid community for the use of Cash Based Transfers (CBTs), essentially smartcard based e-money schemes, which can be rapidly established in times of crisis and in which the reconciliation process can be done automatically in the Cloud. The trials to date have focused on prepaid card schemes. But these also have significant disadvantages, since they require access to expensive payment terminals designed to operate in clean retail environments typically found in urban areas, whilst creating a huge problem with cash liquidity in the local community.
Groups of representatives from the Humanitarian Aid community under the auspices of Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network (ELAN), the Cash Learning Partnership (CALP) and the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers, sponsored by DFID, have analysed these trials and documented their requirements for CBT solutions.
Reviewing these with the retail payment experts within Consult Hyperion it became apparent we had already developed many of the building blocks required to deliver the Humanitarian Aid community’s ideal CBT solution:-
• A proven, robust and scalable beneficiary registration and voucher distribution service, The TAP Platform, which was used to register in excess of 500,000 subsistence farmers in Nigeria’s northern states to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s GES voucher scheme. The transparent nature of the information stored within the system allowed us to remotely identify incorrect or fraudulent activity within the system and initiate remedial action accordingly.
• Mobile applications which can be used to complete transactions initiated by tapping a smartcard to the merchant’s mobile phone, replacing the payment terminals and removing the need for physical cash.
• AML/KYC compliance solutions developed for use in regions where regulatory supervision is limited, such as Somalia.
• A group of ethical hackers who could validate the security of the end to end service.
The result is TeMS (the TAP e-Money Service), which we are launching at the AidEx conference. Our market research tells us that TeMS will make it easier for the Humanitarian Organisations to rapidly and securely deliver cash payments in areas with limited or no communications or electricity.
But there is a lot more behind that simple statement. The local community will be more inclined to welcome the recipients as they will bring income into the region. The teams delivering the aid will be able to focus on the financial awareness of the merchants and recipients, helping them to learn how to plan and save, rather than spending time reconciling paper vouchers or ensuring that there is sufficient cash in the region. Donors will have access to detailed information about who is receiving what aid and where, allowing them to respond to the growing demand for value for money information from their local media.
My hope is that my daughter, who is planning to spend time within the Humanitarian Aid Community when she graduates from medical school, will again be able to ask the people she is working with how a product Consult Hyperion developed has changed their lives.